ONCE UPON A TIME, POWER TOOLS came with a cord and life was good. Then came cordless, and life got better. Today, as more manufacturers adopt and perfect lithium-ion battery technology, tool users can be downright giddy at the prospects.

The lithium-ion battery is perhaps the biggest development in cordless tools since, well, the cordless tool. It certainly is the most significant in the last 15 years, says Mike Sherriff, a senior product manager for professional cordless tools at Anderson, S.C.–based TTI North America, manufacturer of the RIDGID brand of power tools. And tool makers say the development of the technology has resulted in ancillary benefits that end users are sure to notice.

CIRCULAR LOGIC: The manufacturer claims that this 36-volt circular saw boasts 26 percent more  run time than its closest competition. It delivers 4,000 revolutions per  minute and can handle tough applications, such as 45-degree bevel cuts at  high speeds. Two battery power systems are available: a FatPack with a long  run time and a SlimPack, which has about 50 percent less power but weighs  one pound less. Bosch Power Tools. 877-267-2499. www.bosch.us.
CIRCULAR LOGIC: The manufacturer claims that this 36-volt circular saw boasts 26 percent more run time than its closest competition. It delivers 4,000 revolutions per minute and can handle tough applications, such as 45-degree bevel cuts at high speeds. Two battery power systems are available: a FatPack with a long run time and a SlimPack, which has about 50 percent less power but weighs one pound less. Bosch Power Tools. 877-267-2499. www.bosch.us.

“It has the ability to deliver more voltage in a smaller package,” says Shane Moll, vice president of marketing for tools and equipment at Milwaukee Electric Tool Co. in Brookfield, Wis.

“The Li-ion technology uses a special molecule structure that allows current to flow three-dimensionally, instead of through two-dimensional layers in the cell,” Milwaukee's literature explains. This results in the ability to run power-hungry tools, such as a hammer-drill or a circular saw, the company says.

But lithium does not mean more power in the general sense. It offers a more efficient use of power, which results in a tool that is lighter in weight and runs longer between charges. “Lithium-ion provides an ergonomic benefit as the batteries offer a better power-to-weight ratio compared to other battery technologies,” Baltimore-based DeWalt Industrial Tool Co. says on its Web site.

For example, in order to increase the power of a tool using, say, a nickel-cadmium (NiCad) battery—which was the dominant player until now—the battery had to get bigger and the tool got heavier. Lithium-ion batteries do not have such limitations.

DROP THE HAMMER: The 18-volt hammer drill offers up to 50 percent more run time compared to  NiCad, says the company. It also features a built-in fuel gauge, so users always  know how much run time is available without needing to place it on a  charger. It has 495 inch-pounds of maximum torque, an all-metal, single-sleeve  ratcheting chuck, and soft-grip handle. Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp. 800-729-3878. www.milwaukeetool.com.
DROP THE HAMMER: The 18-volt hammer drill offers up to 50 percent more run time compared to NiCad, says the company. It also features a built-in fuel gauge, so users always know how much run time is available without needing to place it on a charger. It has 495 inch-pounds of maximum torque, an all-metal, single-sleeve ratcheting chuck, and soft-grip handle. Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp. 800-729-3878. www.milwaukeetool.com.

What lithium does mean, however, is more money. Some manufacturers say a lithium-ion tool will cost about twice as much as a comparable NiCad or a nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) tool, while others say the increase is not that significant. “In the retail environment, there is a minor cost increase,” says Moll, “but that is slowly going away. You are seeing a lot of the price points come down.”

Though manufacturers agree that NiCad technology will still be viable, most agree that lithium-ion usage will only increase. “Over the next five years, I see NiCad usage dropping off,” says Sherriff. “It's like the cassette [after the introduction of CDs].”

KNOW THE DRILL: This compact 18-volt lithium-ion drill handles the toughest tasks while reducing  user fatigue. It features two speeds, 455 inch-pounds of torque, and  weighs 4.25 pounds with battery. A fade-free power feature means the tool runs  just as fast and just as tough at the end of the charge as at the beginning. Each  battery provides at least 2,000 recharges, the company says. Ridgid. 800-474-3443. www.ridgid.com.
KNOW THE DRILL: This compact 18-volt lithium-ion drill handles the toughest tasks while reducing user fatigue. It features two speeds, 455 inch-pounds of torque, and weighs 4.25 pounds with battery. A fade-free power feature means the tool runs just as fast and just as tough at the end of the charge as at the beginning. Each battery provides at least 2,000 recharges, the company says. Ridgid. 800-474-3443. www.ridgid.com.

But this raises another issue: What do you do with your old NiCad tools? Some are being recycled, but not enough of them—at least according to a recent builder survey by the Durham, N.C.–based nonprofit Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corp. (RBRC).

“This survey showed that although many [contractors]—44 percent—are currently recycling the rechargeable batteries in their cordless power tools, close to 30 percent are not actively recycling them, although they know that they are recyclable,” says Linda Gabor, the group's manager of marketing and media relations.

In 2001, the group expanded its Call2Recycle program to include the collection and recycling of all small rechargeable batteries, adding Ni-MH, lithium-ion, and NiCad. “However, as more end users make the leap to lithium-ion–powered products, they also need to make the environmental commitment to recycle the rechargeable batteries in their cordless power tools that are no longer going to be used.”

POWER UP: Offering brute strength, this line of heavy-duty 36-volt power tools is sure  to handle any task. The line delivers up to twice the run time and power  of 18-volt tools, the company says. The jigsaw features a 1-inch stroke length  and zero to 2,700 strokes per minute. Keyless blade changes and shoe bevels  and a dust blower come standard. DeWalt. 800-433-9258. www.dewalt.com.
POWER UP: Offering brute strength, this line of heavy-duty 36-volt power tools is sure to handle any task. The line delivers up to twice the run time and power of 18-volt tools, the company says. The jigsaw features a 1-inch stroke length and zero to 2,700 strokes per minute. Keyless blade changes and shoe bevels and a dust blower come standard. DeWalt. 800-433-9258. www.dewalt.com.

At the moment, builders can bring their batteries to such retailers as The Home Depot, Lowe's, and Sears for recycling, but participation is minimal.

Few builders have the infrastructure in place to encourage battery recycling within their companies. “Only 35 percent of builders currently have a recycling program at their company, and only 16 percent of those builders' programs include recycling batteries,” Gabor says. “This finding presents an opportunity for RBRC to further educate builders on their environmental responsibility, and in some states, their legal obligation.”

Sherriff says lithium-ion batteries should be recycled at the end of their lives, but he adds that it is a “greener” battery than NiCad because it does not have any heavy metals. Most, if not all, major tool manufacturers are members of RBRC and support recycling programs.

TWO STEP: This new line of 14.4-volt cordless tools offers lithium-ion technology that  provides three times the life of standard batteries, according to the manufacturer. Featuring  approximately 1,300-1,500 cycles (the number of times  a user can recharge the battery), the DS14DL drill shown generates 460 inch-pounds  of torque and is ideal for wood, plastic, aluminum, and other metals. A  two-step speed switch with four speed settings is located on the side. Hitachi  Power Tools USA. 800-829-4752. www.hitachipowertools.com.
TWO STEP: This new line of 14.4-volt cordless tools offers lithium-ion technology that provides three times the life of standard batteries, according to the manufacturer. Featuring approximately 1,300-1,500 cycles (the number of times a user can recharge the battery), the DS14DL drill shown generates 460 inch-pounds of torque and is ideal for wood, plastic, aluminum, and other metals. A two-step speed switch with four speed settings is located on the side. Hitachi Power Tools USA. 800-829-4752. www.hitachipowertools.com.

For more product information, visit ebuild, Hanley Wood's interactive product catalog, at www.builderonline.com or www.ebuild.com.